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What Contract Projections Say About the Chargers' Key Free Agents

A look at the contract projections of the Chargers' top three free agents.

The Chargers spent more money in free agency last offseason than any other year under Tom Telesco's tenure with the club. But as the Chargers turn the page to the 2023 season, they have some work on their hands to remain aggressors in free agency.

The free agent period will kickoff on March 15 at 1 p.m. PT in which contract talks will ramp up. After a signing frenzy just one year ago that featured the Chargers landing cornerback J.C. Jackson, defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day and acquiring edge rusher Khalil Mack via trade, the team will approach things in a different manner this time around, particularly because of where they stand with the salary cap.

The Chargers are currently $20.3 million over the salary cap. But with the spending threshold expected to raise, being set at a record $224.8 million per club, relief is coming the team's way, getting them closer to being cap compliant.

Pro Football Focus released contract projections for their top 100 free agents, which consists of three Chargers: linebacker Drue Tranquill, edge rusher Kyle Van Noy and defensive lineman Morgan Fox.

Here's a breakdown of what each player’s contract projection says about their ability to remain with the Chargers:

LB Drue Tranquill

  • Contract Projection: Two years, $8.5 million ($4.25M per year); $5 million total guaranteed

The signal-caller of the defense, Tranquill produced a career year across nearly each statistical category. For a defense that had as many as seven starters out with an injury at one point, Tranquill was the glue that kept the unit together through the highs and lows.

As things pertain to his likelihood to return, the Chargers have already shown their cards on how they truly value inside linebackers on the open market. Last year, they allowed Kyzir White, the team's leading tackler at the time, to walk in free agency for a 1-year, $3 million deal.

Perhaps Tranquill has more to offer, being the man in charge of relaying the plays to the defense and being one of the top influential voices on that side of the ball.

"The 2022 season was Tranquill’s first as a full-time starter following Kyzir White's departure, and his 105 tackles were more than his first three seasons combined," Pro Football Focus wrote. "Perhaps most importantly in today’s NFL, Tranquill followed up his 74.6 coverage grade in 2021 with a career-high 75.4 mark, with his 18 stops in coverage a top-20 figure among off-ball linebackers. He also made the absolute most of the occasional blitz, tallying 15 pressures, five sacks and three more quarterback hits on 70 pass-rush snaps."

Tranquill expressed his interest in wanting to remain with the Chargers the day after their 2022 season came to an end.

"This is the team that drafted me. That means a lot as a player, when you can continue your career with the team that drafted you and believed in you first," Tranquill said. "I sure hope to be back."

For Tranquill to be brought back, it would require the Chargers to instill a change of philosophy in what will likely require handing an inside linebacker a multi-year deal.

EDGE Kyle Van Noy

  • Contract Projection: Two years, $6.5 million ($3.25M per year); $4 million total guaranteed

Van Noy signed with the Chargers last offseason late into the signing period, but his impact down the final stretch was pivotal. After a slow start to the year, enduring a position change to edge rusher after spending much of training camp at off-the-ball linebacker, Van Noy collected his reps on the fly. The results didn't come right away, but once he found his footing, there was no looking back.

Van Noy's first sack didn’t come until Week 14, but from that point on, he recorded a sack in each of the final five regular season games.

His leadership qualities were also quite evident. While it doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, his presence as a player who's played in many primetime games, postseason battles and has won two Super Bowls with the Patriots, served as a huge help for the Chargers during the second half of their schedule.

"He greatly outperformed his one-year, $2.25 million pact with the Los Angeles Chargers for 2022," Pro Football Focus wrote. The savvy veteran has played both as a true off-ball linebacker and more near the line of scrimmage rushing the passer in the past two seasons, offering a unique and valuable skill set to potentially interested teams, with grades above 60.0 in every facet in 2022. Van Noy recorded a pressure percentage of right around 10% with at least five sacks in each of the past four seasons, and his 82.1 coverage grade over the past two seasons is fifth among linebackers."

The Chargers need depth at edge rusher, but based on the projected contract that Van Noy will demand, and the team's salary cap situation, they're likely to fill this need through the draft or signing a cheaper free agent deal.

DL Morgan Fox

  • Contract Projection: Two years, $9 million ($4.5M per year); $5 million total guaranteed

Initially signed to bolster the depth of the defensive line group, Fox emerged as a valuable starter following the season-ending knee injury to Austin Johnson.

The interior of the defensive line saw three players ruled out for the year with injury. That opened the door for Fox to receive a steady dose of playing time, and he made the most of his opportunities in both the run game and as a pass rusher.

Fox logged career-highs in sacks (6.5), quarterback hits (11), tackles (38) and tackles for loss (8).

"Fox set career-high marks across the board as an interior pass-rusher in 2022, earning a 70.6 pass-rush grade with 40 quarterback pressures on an 11.2% pressure rate," Pro Football Focus wrote. "He fits the mold as a pure pass-rusher — he has failed to eclipse 600 snaps in any season of his career and has earned run-defense grades below 50.0 for four consecutive seasons. He’s a late-down rotational player for obvious passing situations, but a lot of teams will covet that skill set come free agency."

With previous ties to Chargers coach Brandon Staley, having also played for him as a member of the Rams during the 2020 season, Fox has shown he can thrive in his defensive system. Fox's future with the club largely hinges on whether or not the team is willing to allocate more resources into the defensive line, which already carries a hefty price tag.

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Nick Cothrel is the publisher of Charger Report. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel for more Chargers coverage.